The Humble Potato, A Taste of Tenerife History

Wed, December 12th, 2012 - By Andrea Montgomery

Almost without exception, visitors to Tenerife fall gastronomically head over heels for the speciality dish of papas arrugadas con mojo (wrinkled potatoes with sauces). But if you’ve ever tried to re-create those delicious babies at home and have ended up with soggy, over-salted spuds on which you pour your souvenir mojos in a failed attempt to make them edible, you’ll know just how important the particular brand of potato is to this humble dish.




The potato was born in South America on the high terraces of the Andes alongside Lake Titicaca over 7000 years ago (you already knew that, didn’t you), and some of the potatoes still being farmed on Tenerife can trace their tubers back to those original Peruvian Andes and are considered actual relics by those in the potato know. The first written accounts of potato cultivation on Tenerife date back to 1622 but it’s believed the crop has been cultivated since the 1570s.

After the potato was introduced to Europe in the second half of the 16th century, crops quickly adapted to the different environment, soil and weather conditions and new varieties were cultivated that shortened the growth cycle from five to three months. But here on Tenerife, the conditions in the upper terraces of Icod de Los Vinos where the first crops were planted, bear a remarkable similarity to the conditions of origin in the Andes and, planted as a winter crop, hours of daylight were equally similar.



Generation after generation of Tenerife farmers have cultivated various antique varieties of potatoes, exchanging seeds between north and south which helped to eliminate pests and to ‘clean’ the seeds year on year. When new varieties of the so-called ‘short cycle’ potatoes arrived from Europe, the poor farmers of Tenerife’s central lowlands couldn’t afford to experiment lest their crops failed and hunger ensued so they continued to farm their original varieties and have done so to this day.

There are currently 46 varieties of potatoes cultivated in the Canary Islands and 25 of those (18 of them in Tenerife) can be traced back to those original Andes potatoes. These are varieties that never made it to the terraces of England, Ireland, France or Spain, nor to the United States and are today considered to be unique in Europe.



In recent history a resurgence of interest in gastronomy using local produce has led to the recognition of these potatoes as rare and exquisite gourmet items and the humble potato received its own Denomination of Origin from Brussels at the end of October 2012 – La Papa Antigua de Canarias.

You’ll find the greatest variety of potatoes on sale in Tenerife at farmer’s markets in Tacaronte, La Orotava, La Laguna, El Rosario, Cruz del Carmen (Anagas), Puerto de la Cruz, San Miguel and Nuestra Señora de Africa in Santa Cruz. Look out also for special displays of winter variety harvests in major supermarkets this month.

Top of the crops for potato aficionados are Negra Yema de Huevo, TorrentaAzucena Blanca, Azucena Negra, Peluca Rosada, Peluca Negra, Peluca Blanca, Bonita Blanca and Bonita Negra. They don’t come cheap, but then how much would you expect to pay for a 500 year old, authentic Andean antique that also happens to taste sensational?

Posted : Wednesday, December 12th, 2012 at 10:20 am
Category : about tenerife
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One Response to “The Humble Potato, A Taste of Tenerife History”

  1. […] but done right they really are delicious! These are no ordinary potatoes but special varieties of small, floury tubers, grown in the Canary […]

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